A Cocktail of Two Cities

Dave Hickey loves Houston, and Houstonians in the know love him back. He's a cult figure here, and his (loving) take on living in our city-state is that "you've got to be a Marxist and you've got to drive a Lexus." The Fort Worth native, 58, lives contentedly in a far different city-state: Las Vegas, which he describes as "Dodge City built by Italians."

You might call Hickey a social critic. He's a hefty guy with a booming, hack-riddled drawl, but his work has always displayed a touch of light-footed iconoclasm. He's a writer/songwriter, rock musician, professor of art criticism/theory at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, art editor/curator -- and, in his gruff way, an idealist, as social critics necessarily are (think Plato or Dylan).

In his book Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy, Hickey opines that "bad taste is real taste ... and good taste is the residue of someone else's privilege." That's a theme -- art as social leveler, art as democracy -- he explores further in the exhibit "Ultralounge," which he curated. "We're trying to re-lounge the world," Hickey says of himself and his exhibiting artists, a pack of L.A./Vegas "post-slackers" that includes Phil Argent, Jennifer Steinkamp, Cynthia Chan and Aaron Baker.

By phone from Sin City, Hickey says "Ultralounge" re-creates the "cocktail aesthetic" of the '50s and '60s via flourishes like "VistaVision-shaped canvases" and "paintings under black light," "a boomerang rug on the floor," Day-Glo baseboards and curved, taupe walls, background strains by the likes of Martin Denny and Stan Getz and -- maybe -- a bubble machine.

"[The exhibit]'s pretty gawdy. Quick and dirty to a high finish -- the rock and roll aesthetic," says Hickey. "It's art about the beholder, not the artist. You're supposed to have fun; if not, you can go home. Most art spaces now are more like NASA ready rooms or hospices. What I call 'High Art' has become so heavily conceptualized and theorized; maybe paintings and sculpture aren't High Art anymore, but popular art."

Popular like, say, a black-velvet painting of The Last Supper salvaged from a thrift store? No, there are no found objets d'bad art in "Ultralounge," he says. "We regard found objects as shopping."

-- Clay McNear

"Ultralounge: The Return of the Social Space (with cocktails)": reception 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 30. Through June 20. DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, 223-8346.

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